Saturday, April 10, 2010

Food For Thought

Traveling With Pomegranates ****
Traveling With Pomegranates is listed as a 'travel memoir', but don't be deceived by that simplistic classification.  Sure, there's a bit of souvenir shopping, and wonderful passages that describe foreign locales, but there are other much more complicated journeys occurring in this book. 

Sue Monk Kidd is approaching her 50th birthday and has entered perimenopause with a bang.  Her daughter Ann, is about to graduate from college and enter the 'real' world. Each is crossing the threshold into the unknown and both are confused, and at times depressed, about the changes that are occurring in their lives. Trips through Greece and France bring direction and revelations, while their time spent traveling together renews and strengthens the mother-daughter bond that Sue fears may have diminished while Ann was away at school.

Early on, it becomes apparent that both women are also on spiritual journeys. Sue is continuing the trek she chronicles in her earlier works. Ann's is just beginning.

After reading the book jacket blurb, I fully expected to have a strong connection to Sue, considering she's my peer and the 'mother' half of the writing team.  I was rather surprised to find that I was much more in sync with daughter Ann!

I lost patience with Sue's attitude towards menopause, and her search for her 'Old Woman'.  She spends far too much time contemplating her own death, instead of embracing her new freedoms. About half way through the book, I also lost interest in her obsession with the Persephone-Demeter myth and her quest for the 'sacred feminine' through the Black Madonnas. I suppose that my religious background, combined with a 'Snap out of it already!' attitude are responsible for my irritation with Sue, but those are the reasons that I dropped this book to 4 stars. (Okay, I was a tiny bit sympathetic, but not enough to go for the full 5.)

(FYI: If you ever need a Greek Goddess refresher course, click here and bookmark. It will direct you to a very clever website that's an invaluable and fun resource.)

Before I explain my attraction to Ann's travelogue, I should mention the 'edibles' encountered in the book. Remarkably, little is mentioned about the food in France, although there is a funny hamburger scene.  There are, however, several meals mentioned during the travels through Greece.  This made me happy. This made me cook!

Of course there was the obligatory Greek salad as shown in the first picture.  Always a delightful first course!

Next up...Moussaka.  Ann experiences the Greek national dish while on tour with her college history class.  I read. I salivated. I created.

And last, but not least...dessert.  Baklava would have been appropriate, but Galaktaboureko was something I had been craving. 

Flaky phyllo dough is filled with a custard thickened with farina. Then the entire pastry is bathed in syrup that is flavored with orange peel and cinnamon. A perfect end to a perfect meal. Indeed this was food for the Gods and Goddesses!  (I think Mary would have approved, too.)
Now back to Ann, and why I was so taken with her version of the story.  I was only a year younger than Ann when I found myself in Greece for 2 1/2 months. My closest friend and her mother were going on an extended vacation to visit family and asked if I would like to go. I hesitated, but like Ann, I heard, "If you don't go, you'll regret it."  I listened. I went. It changed my life in a way that was very similar to what Ann experiences.  The tour guide assigned to Ann's college group tells her that this life changing experience is called 'the Greek Miracle.'  I didn't know there was a name for it.  I just know that it happened to me.

Ann was a history major in college, and was researching a paper on Athena while on her first tour.  She was hoping to see this relief in the museum at the Acropolis in Athens, but the museum was closed. She doesn't get to see the piece until a return trip a few years later.  When she does finally get to view the real thing, her interpretation is different. Her life has changed. She sees the relief through different eyes.
I was an English major, and except for the photos in our art history textbook, and the Parthenon made out of sugar cubes that was enthroned in a corner of the art room, I had little knowledge of Greek art.  I reveled in all art that I encountered in Greece, but the statue of Aphrodite and Eros fending off Pan that is on display in the National Museum in Athens, struck a particular chord with me.  I probably would have been transfixed in front of this piece for several hours if the museum hadn't closed for the night.

I thought that I was Aphrodite in this scenario, because I was the Queen of two dates.  If I didn't think a particular date was 'the one', I refused number 3, sandal in hand.  I was working my way through college and didn't have the time or inclination to waste on dead ends.  My mother used to tell me that I was too critical.
Now, many years later, I'm wondering if I was actually Pan in the grouping. Was I afraid of being alone?  (His name is the root for the word panic.) 

I did start dating my husband a few months after I returned from the trip.  When my mother flippantly asked me if they'd be seeing 'this one' again, my immediate answer was, "Yes. This one I'm going to marry."  I had a new open heart and equally open mind, but I still wasn't willing to settle for 2nd best. Lo and behold, Mr. Right had materialized.Strange, no?

It took me a long time to write this post.  I kept stopping to look at pictures and postcards from that trip, and reread the journal that I kept that summer.  Honestly, I think I enjoyed my reverie more than I enjoyed Sue and Ann's memoir. Our experiences certainly do color how we feel about what we read.

(Note: If you're a fan of Sue's novel, The Secret Life of Bees, you can watch the groundwork for the book take shape during the authors travels.  I also feel compelled to explain the lack of pomegranate photos in this post. Earlier this week, I scoured my corner of NE Pennsylvania for one of these exotic beauties, but alas, my hunt was 'fruitless.')

This post is being linked to Food for Thought. Please click on the link to discover more timely 'edible' book reviews.


  1. What wonderful looking food! And I really do enjoy reading you; your writing style is great!

    Thanks for such a wonderful review! I also love that I learned something today!

  2. Nancy, this post brought up SO many wonderful memories for me! We traveled to Greece & Turkey & toured the National Museum in Athens just like you. I remember the statue well! I also remember eating delicious lamb & eggplant moussaka outside in the Plaka.
    I fell in love with Santorini & still have the calendar that I bought there, just for the gorgeous photos of the blue & white houses!

    I had not heard of 'the Greek Miracle' but I believe it is true! You are changed forever by a visit.
    Fantastic post!!

  3. oy, i read this and gave it 3.5 stars, it was redundant and annoying to me... plus i had just come back from the same place she had traveled and her whiny tone was kind of ruining my trip memories! and i have been stuck in menopause forever, it was all to much! BUT i really enjoyed seeing bees take place in her mind.

    there is always a silver lining no matter how we rate them, FOOD! and wow did you do it justice! FABULOUS FOOD! oh your dessert is calling me, but i am reading and italian book today i have to cook for or i would be whipping this right up NOW! oh what a thing of beauty, and yes mother mary is calling...

    ok, this is why i soooooooooo love food for thought, all the little avenues we segue down and share, all pulled from the book for others to enjoy. i love you shared pan and aphrodite and your life changing trip, this is why reading is so enjoyable to me, we have so many stories in a story, and its so refreshing for me that others are willing to share. thank you so much for sharing food for thought, i love getting to glimpse into everyone's life~

  4. Beautiful post! I like to eat anything made with phyllo dough, but your Galaktaboureko looks particularly tempting. I think I need to show this one to my chef. :-) Thanks for sharing this review.

  5. Nancy, you make me want to go to Greece.

  6. It's 10 p.m. here and I feel the need to head out to buy the book and the ingredients for your recipes! Galaktaboureko is one of my favorite desserts and, even though I do work with phyllo, I've never made it. I think I can. I adored "The Secret Life of Bees" and met Sue Monk Kidd when we lived in Charleston, S.C.. She's as delightful as her books.


  7. What a wonderful review...I love hearing about your trip and experiences and how you related more to Ann than to Sue. It is TRUE how our own experiences color how we interpret a book! I love your Greek Art images you included~ I was an Art major, not that that prepares for the business world :-) Beautiful photos and I am drooling over that Baklava at this very moment!

  8. I so enjoyed this post; so much information. I am a Foodie and I love learning anything new about Food. Your photos are making me hungry; beautiful!Love the title of that book.

  9. How lovely that you share your own story to enrich the book... it works brilliantly...and so romantic too!!

  10. I landed here by serendipity today after finding the wonderful 'Food for Thought' and after reading your beautiful blog am in tears. I have been feeling a woman's trip to Greece "coming on" for a quite a while but have parked it due to the recent loss of my baby sister to ovarian cancer. We left it too long. I ordered her a copy of Monk Kidd's book (not having read it) but didn't get to give it to her.
    I think your story reminded me that we are all on our own paths however interconnected and that the inner pull informs us more than the mind. So I'm leaving the parking lot at my first chance.

  11. I don't know, Nancy, it's all Greek to me..
    But the food you made, looks grand..that's Irish for really good, LOL!
    So when are you coming to Southampton? I thought of you today at Mass at Our Lady Of Poland. That's as much traveling as I get to do!!:)


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